Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
Ashlyn Keeney has been distance running almost as long as she’s been walking.
That is exaggeration of course but it’s not all that much of a stretch.
The 14-year-old Liberty High freshman phenom started her running career in second grade when she joined Iowa Speed, a youth track club in Iowa City.
At first, Keeney said, the running was just for fun but she could tell she had a knack for the sport even at a young age.
Still, Keeney insists she had no indication what was in store for her first varsity season of cross country.
Keeney is unbeaten in high school competition and is the top-ranked runner in Class 4A by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches.
In her first appearance at the Mississippi Valley Conference Super Meet last week Keeney ran away from a loaded field that featured the second and third ranked runners in Class 4A winning by 38 seconds.
“I had no idea,” Keeney said of her instant success. “I was hoping to be up there but I didn’t know this would happen. It’s amazing.”
Shortly after starting with Iowa Speed Keeney was hooked on running.
In no time she had gone from running for fun to a more competitive schedule.
When I was younger I started Iowa speed and at first it was just for fun and in the later years I was doing it more competitively,” Keeney explained. “I just like running.”
Now at the high school level Keeney is competitive but is still having plenty of fun.
She started turning heads early and notched a big win over last year’s 2A champion Marie Hostetler of Mid-Prairie at the Solon Invitational last month.
Keeney followed up that performance by clocking a three-mile time of 17:08 while winning the Naperville (Illinois) Invitational on September 21.
She added a title at the Wartburg College Meet that featured Wisconsin power Onalaska.
“She had a great time in Illinois with the 3-mile and I think that gave her some confidence and then we ran last weekend at Wartuburg and she had a great team that day,” Liberty High coach Tonya McDonough said. “She is feeling good right now.”
Keeney posted perhaps her most impressive performance in winning the MVC Super Meet title at Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids.
The Freshman finished in 17:36.8 to outdistance runner-up and second-ranked Linn-Mar sophomore Micah Poellet by more than 37 seconds.
“I just tried to keep up my tempo and try to push myself as hard as I can throughout,” Keeney said after the race. “It’s a good experience. I was a little worried coming in but I’m glad it went well.”
Keeney started running for fun years ago. Those same things that she enjoyed as an elementary runner are still what Keeney enjoys now as one of the state’s best.
“I love the feeling after I’m doing when I’ve had a good meet,” Keeney said. “It just feels so great and then you have some extra excitement for the next couple of days.”
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